The Systemic Rot Under the Christianity Today Scandal
Evangelical Magazine Christianity Today Covered Up Harassment
Let’s start with the good for a change.
It’s admirable that CT lives up to its professed ideals (at least in this instance). In 2015, CT published editorials calling for more transparency in reporting and discussing scandals within Christian organizations. Now, they’re striving for transparency in reporting on their own shortcomings.
The bad, obviously, is that CT covered up 12 years of sexual harassment by its editor-in-chief Mark Galli and head of advertising, Olatokunbo Olawoye a.k.a. “Toks.” These men inappropriately touched and talked to many women working at CT without consequence.
The “worse” is the systemic rot underneath the cover up, the attitudes and thinking and behaviors that enabled the harassment to continue unchecked.
Daniel Silliman investigated, wrote, and published the article “without prior review by ministry executives” at CT.
More than half a dozen employees reported harassment from Galli or Olawoye to a manager or HR between the mid-2000s and 2019. But neither leader was written up, formally warned about their inappropriate behavior, suspended, or otherwise punished. There is no record that Christianity Today took any corrective action, even after repeated complaints of nearly identical offenses.
How? How could two men repeatedly harass female coworkers without facing any discipline?
“The culture when I was there was to protect the institution at all costs,” said Amy Jackson, an associate publisher who left what she said had become a hostile work environment in 2018. “No one was ever held accountable. Mark Galli was certainly protected.”
What exactly did the “protection” look like? It’s hard to imagine managers and HR professionals actively protecting someone repeatedly accused of sexual harassment, especially at a Christian organization.
But the “protection” seems to have been more banal. The HR folks and managers were just doing their jobs; their jobs just happened to be pretty feckless when it came to sexual harassment.
When people made allegations, HR opened files and took notes. But then nothing happened, leaving many current and former employees with the impression there were no consequences for any misconduct short of a felony.
When others did report Olawoye [Toks] for inappropriate behavior, they found they were treated as if they were the problem.
One woman told her manager that Olawoye was staring at her breasts during meetings. The manager’s response: “It helps if you wear a scarf.”
The manager, who is a woman, confirmed that account but noted that she did not receive training about sexual harassment when she was promoted and did not know to file a formal complaint.
Silliman’s article goes on to detail Toks’ habit of barging into women’s offices, shutting the door, and having intensely personal conversations that would have been creepy at a singles bar, much less in the workplace.
Tok was never reprimanded. When one manager filed a complaint with HR, Toks stormed into his office and tore into him — without consequence from HR or upper management.
Toks was later convicted of trying to buy sex from a teenage girl.
A later section of the article focuses on Mark Galli’s actions. He often made inappropriate comments about women’s attractiveness, ranging from calling female golfers “eye candy” to talking about having an affair with a coworker.
More disturbing, Galli placed his hand on women’s lower backs and let his fingers linger on bra straps. At least one woman reported him placing a hand on her butt before and during a picture.
Galli dismisses all of these complaints as misunderstandings and over-sensitivity. He claims he was simply encouraging and connecting with coworkers through physical touch.
Mark, that’s why God made shoulders and upper arms.
Why It Happened
I’ve written previously about how Evangelical culture perpetuates abuse. Evangelicals emphasize sharing their faith and converting others. They emphasize “witnessing” to the world.
So they prioritize protecting their “witness” by suppressing embarrassing scandals. The reputation of institutions matter more than the well-being of the people in them.
Harassers and abusers figure this out. I don’t pretend to understand their psychology, but I imagine the lack of consequences for their bad behavior reinforces that behavior. Just like children with permissive parents, men like Mark Galli and “Toks” learn they can do what they want.
As Amy Jackson said, “The culture when I was there was to protect the institution at all costs.”
In effect, the culture protects the harassers and abusers.
At CT, protecting the institution created an organizational culture that did not only suppress the truth; it also suppressed the procedures and training that might have stopped the harassment and abuse.
When women reported their experiences, HR opened files and took notes but did nothing else. Neither HR nor upper management disciplined Galli and Toks. They didn’t even maintain good records. Later reports were sometimes met with, But Galli has a spotless record; no one’s reported him before.
Managers and employees observed HR’s lack of action and concluded that reporting further instances of harassment would do little good.
The manager who suggested wearing a scarf said she had not received sexual harassment training — she didn’t know what else to say or do.
Anyone who’s worked at a large organization can tell you what to do when hearing reports of sexual harassment. That a manager at CT couldn’t come up with a better response speaks volumes about CT’s culture.
The Excuses and Gaslighting
Lacking clear procedures and training for handling sexual harassment, CT’s culture allowed excuses and gaslighting to thrive.
The excuses and gaslighting then helped perpetuate the harassment and abuse. Galli and Toks were able to minimize their behavior rather than recognize its effects and repent.
Several of the women who spoke with Daniel Silliman said that Mark Galli “seemed to brush the complaints off as a minor annoyance, a generational difference, or a problem of ‘politically correct’ culture.”
Silliman quotes Galli:
“I have never done anything consciously, deliberately wrong,” he told the CT news editor. “I’m happy to apologize for those areas in which I miscommunicated or made people think one thing when I was actually trying to do another.”
Galli expressed frustration that CT allowed the misunderstandings to “fester” and said he wished the ministry had facilitated reconciliations between him and the women who accused him of inappropriate conduct.
“Some individuals might have interpreted any kind of touching as a sexual come-on,” he said. “Anything I’ve done to trouble, offend, bother anyone, even two years after I left the company, I’d appreciate the opportunity, even with the presence of a third party, to understand what they’re saying.”
Judging from Galli’s words, I’m not sure he really wants to understand “what they’re saying.” He comes across as wanting to “correct” their understanding.
He seems sorry for “miscommunicating,” but even sorrier that other people might have misinterpreted his behavior.
The article includes more of Galli’s perspective:
Galli confirmed multiple conflicts over touching people at work but disputed the women’s interpretation of what he did.
“My hand couldn’t have been on her back for more than a second,” he told the CT news editor. “I obviously violated her space. I am really sorry about that. I wasn’t feeling her bra. … I was just trying to physically affirm that I was coming as a friendly person that wanted to have a conversation with her.”
After repeated complaints to HR, Galli considered making a personal policy against touching people in the office but rejected the idea, he told the CT news editor. He touched people to encourage them, to connect, and to communicate effectively, he said, and he thought he would just have to live with some misunderstandings.
I could take Mark Galli’s defense more seriously if he had been briefly tapping women’s upper arms and shoulders as part of encouraging, connecting, and communicating. Physical touch can be powerful.
But he placed his hand on female coworkers’ lower backs and bra straps.
I bet he didn’t put his hand on male coworkers’ lower backs and belts.
The “miscommunication,” the “misinterpretation,” the “misunderstandings,” all provide handy excuses for Mark Galli to ignore what people told him about the effects of his behavior and keep doing what he wanted anyway.
They also allowed CT executives and HR to minimize the effects of his actions and force everyone to adapt to their Editor-in-Chief’s behavior.
With everyone acting as though the touching wasn’t a big deal, some of the women thought, Maybe it is just me? Maybe I’m crazy?
This Is Why the “Woke” Care about Language
According to Silliman’s article, Mark Galli made unsolicited comments about “political correctness” in the context of sexual harassment reports.
When [one\ woman was hired on as an editor in the mid-2000s, someone joked that she was only brought on because a senior editor wanted to have sex with her. She didn’t report that to HR, but a colleague did. After that, the woman heard regular comments from men at CT about how she was too quick to see sexual harassment in everything.
Galli in particular began asking her if she was offended when he held a door open for her, she recalled. He would make a banal statement about gender, she said, and then add, “Are you going to report that?”
You don’t have to scour Galli’s writing to find criticism of political correctness, “cancel culture,” feminist movements, or liberal politics.
Indeed, he has written about the “radical” feminism at CT that stifled his writing and behavior while he worked at CT. Imagine if he had enjoyed full self-expression!
Our words shape our thinking, which then shape our actions.
If you talk about sexual harassment as a misunderstanding, then you will view the harassed as mistaken and sensitive. You will then continue inappropriately touching them, because they’re the problem, not you.
Some people talk about taking offense to inappropriate comments as “political correctness,” “wokeness,” or “feminism.” That language produces dismissive attitudes and minimizes the behavior and its effects.
And that’s why “the woke” care about language.
Toks engaged in very inappropriate conversations with female coworkers. Then he sought to buy sex from a teenager.
Galli spoke to and touched female coworkers inappropriately, dismissed their concerns as misunderstanding and “feminism,” and kept acting as he always had, resolved to “live with some misunderstandings.”
Donald Trump bragged about committing sexual assault. Days after he denied actually grabbing women by the genitalia, over a dozen women came forward with credible allegations of sexual assault and harassment.
In these and other cases, the language does not only point to character flaws. The language reinforces those flaws. You can indulge your worst impulses by letting yourself say whatever you want, or you can “fake” being a good person until one day you are in fact a good person.
The “woke” care about words because words matter. They affect our thinking, our behavior, and our systems, all of which then affect people.
May our words, thoughts, and actions build systems and institutions in which people matter more than the systems and institutions themselves.